•• l e a t h e r
There are four types of leather: full grain leather, top grade leather, genuine leather and bonded
leather. Full grade leather is the top layer of the animal hide and the fibers are aligned vertically
rather than horizontally, making the leather tougher to separate. Also, the top layer will maintain
surface blemishes like brands or run-ins with barbed wire fences. This premium leather is used
for the highest quality bags and wears beautifully with age. Top grade leather is split from the
top layer of hide to remove blemishes then sanded and refinished. It does not age as nicely with
use since the outer layer of tough vertical fibers has been removed, but it is strong and durable.
Genuine leather is the third layer left after the full and top grade leathers have been removed.
The fibers are aligned horizontally and the surface is spray painted to resemble higher quality
leather. While popular, suede is a kind of genuine leather which explains why it is not as robust
as other kinds of leather. Bonded leather is the lowest quality leather made from leather dust
The tanning process is one of the most important steps in creating high quality leather. After the animal
hair and fats have been removed from the skin, this "wet blue" weather is submerged in large
drums filled with new oils, perservatives and coloring. Depending on the thickness of the leather, it can
take hours for the oils to penetrate throughout the skin for uniform coloring and preservation. Examining the
raw edge of a leather hide tells the truth about the quality of the leather and tanning process: uniform
coloring and texture indicates the leather was tanned thoroughly (oils and colors penetrated throughout) while
coloring on the top surface with pale-bluish interior indicates the leather was only partially tanned and
is likely subject to drying or cracking with age. For more lessons in leather, see the
Saddleback Leather Company website.
What does this mean for leather used in jewelry? Many of the popular metallic leather cords
are not high grade leather; they are genuine leather or bonded leather that has been spray painted.
This isn't necessarily bad; it simply means the leather will not withstand heavy use - just like
most jewelry components! Thin sterling silver or 14kt gold chain is not robust against repeated
hard pulls or twists either. This kind of leather cord should be treated as a somewhat disposable
item that will become scratched with use. This is true for suede leather "lace" as well.
Leather scraps tend to cover the spectrum of leather types available: some are premium quality, some
are lower quality. I bond all leather components with strong industrial adhesive so durability is
determined by the leather surface, and components will weather differently.